Nelson-Atkins exhibit features lyrical pinhole camera works

Photo courtesy Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, American (b. 1943). Head with ladders, Illinois, 1979, from the series Expeditions. Gelatin silver print. Gift of the artist, 2012.38.31.

People call photographer Ruth Thorne-Thomsen a visual poet, one who creates mysterious, lyrical and whimsical works using a very old tool – the pinhole camera.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will exhibit 40 of her photographs from Feb. 20 through July 28.

“Thorne-Thomsen became fascinated with the simplicity and transformative magic of the pinhole camera in 1976, toward the end of her graduate studies in photography,” said Keith F. Davis, senior photography curator at the Nelson. “Her images in this exhibition are about discovery and wonder as they weave together reality and dream.”

Negatives about 4–by–5 inches are loaded into a camera the size of a toaster with no viewfinder and pictures are taken blind.

“The artistic appeal of the pinhole camera stems from the strangeness of its vision,” Davis said, because it creates the effect of unlimited depth of field. Things small and close or large and distant get the same visual definition.

Foreground and background are collapsed together, masking what may be big differences in distance and size, he said.

And Thorne-Thomsen adds things, such as fictitious rocks and ships in her Agua Tierra series of pinhole seascapes.

She is now retired from teaching and full time artwork and lives with her husband in Philadelphia. She donated 74 of her prints to the Nelson last year.

The Nelson said the exhibit is a celebration of her artistic achievement and her generosity.

Photo courtesy Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Ruth Thorne-Thomsen, American (b. 1943). Elegy (4779) Mexico, 1999-2001, from the series Agua Tierra. Inkjet print. Gift of the artist, 2012.38.19.

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